Elyse Haines  ●  7/9/2019

The Hardest Thing to Keep Clean at Your Nonprofit


There’s one thing at your charity that requires constant upkeep to maintain cleanliness. No, it isn’t the employee refrigerator or your shelter pets’ kennels. The hardest thing to keep clean at your charity is your donor data.

But it’s worth the work: The knowledge you retain about your donors, including the history of their giving, is invaluable. Storing donor and prospect data is an inexpensive proposition, but the cost of not having that information when you need to make an important strategic decision can be exorbitant. 


Here are 5 ways to keep your donor data clean:

  1. Perform contact data appends like USPS Address Standardization, National Change of Address (NCOA), or telephone and email appends.
    Pro tip: Time these with the marketing efforts you plan to use them in for maximum effectiveness!
  2. Audit the information you’re storing to validate accuracy and completeness across your prospect and donor records.
  3. Leverage your agency partner to help guide data assignment and categorization discussions. They’re your data integrity copilot.
  4. Store your data in a centralized, controlled, and backed-up database platform.
  5. Before choosing a new data technology source, take a look at how it will integrate with your existing systems to determine what gaps are being created. (There will always be some incompatibilities!) Consider if these gaps will be an acceptable trade-off compared to the benefits the new technology will provide.


The importance of a centralized Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that provides one source of truth about your donors cannot be overstated.

If you’re in the market for a new CRM, TrueSense Marketing’s Chief Data Scientist Steve Caldwell suggests, “Choose a CRM that can easily integrate with the third-party tools that you or your agency use. Integration with other platforms will extend the value of the CRM data because more personalized marketing efforts can be achieved. At TrueSense, we use our own data warehouse and a campaign management platform to ensure that all donors are carefully segmented and cultivated, and that marketing results are easily measured for maximum insights.”

Your choice of CRM should rest with your marketing and fundraising executives. As the primary revenue generator for your charity, these departments should be leading the conversation about how to store, update, and maintain constituent and marketing data. “Information Technology (IT) can help you make your database decisions,” says Stephen Ferrando, SVP of Strategy and Analytics at TrueSense. “But technology and data decisions need the marketing fundraising team’s executive guidance to help prioritize the data most critical to the organization’s future success.”


Wondering what dirty data and decentralized information might mean for your charity?

At the very least, dirty data creates missed opportunities for your nonprofit. “The list of consequences is very near endless, but each and every one ends with money being spent in inefficient ways,” says, Anthony Cerrato, Business Intelligence Manager at TrueSense Marketing.

Bad data can lead to:

  • Bad Donor Stewardship: Not properly acknowledging donations, communicating with deceased donors, sending an appeal that doesn’t match a donor’s preferences or behavior, or sending a donor the same thing twice! This all leads to donor attrition.
  • List Generation Issues: Bad data may lead to missteps with your suppression file, causing you to contact donors who don’t want to be contacted or suppressing prospects who you should be communicating with.
  • Losing Sight of Your Transformational Supporters: Bad data can also lead you to miss mid-level, major, and planned gift opportunities. It can cause you to misalign investment levels in a donor relationship, resulting in bad ROI and bad donor cultivation.
  • Forecasting Inaccuracies: You, or your agency partner, might waste hours of time investigating suspicious reports or attempting to match differing reports so you can compare and contrast different campaigns. “Reports are a manifestation of the data they reference. If the data is bad or not coded correctly, the reports will reflect incorrect trends — and those trends are central to building strategy,” says TrueSense Account Director Britt Fouks,.

In addition to keeping donor stewardship at its best, data integrity is becoming even more important with the increase of personalized data for-profit companies use to engage their customers, and the expectations they begin to possess about the way they experience those brands. “The high benchmark of personalized customer experience set by brands like Amazon and Target are reshaping the way your donors believe you know them,” says Caldwell. “The consequences of these expectations can be very dangerous for nonprofits who fail to provide similar experiences.”

And while you may not be competing against Target or Amazon for your donors’ philanthropic dollars, they are your competition for your donors’ attention. (See 7 For-Profit Marketing Best Practices Your Nonprofit Can Use.)

Donor data integrity greatly influences the success of your charity and your ability to properly cultivate your prospects and donors. By maintaining and centralizing your donor records, you will be better positioned to improve your donors’ experiences with you, and thereby make the most of your donors’ long-term revenue potential. 


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